Take the 2-minute tour ×
Chinese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Chinese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've heard in 广东 (guangdong) the term 三八 to mean "gossip", particularly for a woman who gossips.

Is this common throughout China, and why does it have this meaning?

share|improve this question
1  
+1 interesting question –  Question Overflow Feb 25 '13 at 5:10
add comment

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Taiwanese like to use the word "三八" to describe female behavior bordering on craziness such as frivolous actions or doing reckless things. It appears that the word originates from the Cantonese or Minnan dialect, but in reality it is not. In fact, "三八" is the authentic Central Plains vocabulary.

刘福根, author of 《汉语詈词研究》 combed through "A Short History of Chinese Swear" (汉语骂詈小史) which listed "三八" as "vulgar or primitive and showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable". It took reference from a book 《拊掌录》 which contains the following:

北都有妓女,美色而舉止生梗,土人謂之生張八。因府會,寇忠湣令乞詩於魏處士野。野贈之詩曰:“君為北道生張八,我是西州熟魏三。莫怪尊前無笑語,半生半熟未相諳。”座客大發一噱

張八 refers to a prostitute from the north during the Song Dynasty, widely known for her beauty and yet unrefined manners. People called her "生張八", "生" to indicate “生梗” or “生硬”. 野 who penned the above poem described himself as 魏三 because he is the third child in his family. Thus, "三八" is derived from combining "三" in 魏三 and "八" in 生張八.

Song Dynasty is the period where mass migration of people from Central Plain to Guangdong and Fujian occurred. The "三八" saying eventually crossed the Strait to Taiwan and became popularize as a swear word.

Sources:
http://www.360doc.com/content/07/0310/17/13012_392020.shtml
http://baike.baidu.com/view/94446.htm

share|improve this answer
    
This is an interesting answer, certainly nothing I'd heard of before. –  Matthew Rudy 马泰 Feb 25 '13 at 20:37
add comment

I believe it is understood throughout China, but it may sound 'Southern' to Northerners and it wouldn't be their word of choice when they want to express the same meaning.

There are two possible origins:

According to Baidu Baike, 三八 means 三八妇女节 (International Women's Day on March 8th), which is extended to refer to women in a derogatory sense, most commonly used against women who appear crazy or maliciously gossiping or interfering with other's business.

Wikipedia says it's because when China first opened trade with foreigners, the foreigners were permitted into the city on 8th, 18th and 28th of every month, locals call seeing the foreigners 三八 (the three eight's), extending to anyone who's overly interested in fresh things, peeking secrets or gossiping.

I am from Beijing. People around me all share the first explanation, but maybe people from the south find the seconds one more sensible.

share|improve this answer
    
So the term originates from the name of the international day? –  trideceth12 Feb 25 '13 at 6:17
    
@trideceth12 I don't know if it's the real origin or a post-origination best guess, but yes it's the date of the international day. Because in Chinese it's officially called 三八妇女节, and 妇女 (as opposed to 女性, 女人, etc.) is sometimes used as a derogatory term for chattering/gossiping women, so this explanation makes some sense. –  NS.X. Feb 25 '13 at 6:41
1  
@trideceth12 Question Overflow's answer is also possible if the reference is genuine, but admittedly in ancient China, many writers had the bad habit of making up references, so it's difficult to choose what to believe. –  NS.X. Feb 25 '13 at 6:48
    
I'm having trouble deciding which to accept. This explanation is rather simpler than QuestionOverflow's. –  Matthew Rudy 马泰 Feb 25 '13 at 20:40
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.